Coronavirus restrictions are easing around Australia, but medical experts have warned against complacency, flagging the possibility of a second wave of infections if precautions are not maintained.
Earlier this week Nobel Laureate and leading immunologist Professor Peter Doherty took to Twitter to warn Australians that the crisis was far from over.
“All of us, particularly older Australians in Sydney and Melbourne, would be unwise to relax any of our vigilance and precautions re COVID-19 until we’ve seen how relaxing restrictions plays out re: case incidence,” Professor Doherty said.
“That should be clear within a month or so.”
In an interview with ABC’s 7.30 on Tuesday the nation’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy revealed to host Leigh Sales the re-emergence of a larger, more deadly, second wave of COVID-19 is “the most worrying thing of all”.
The most important step is changing behaviour and how people interact with each other as states slowly ease restrictions and cautious steps back to normality are taken – or in the case of some less-than-sensible shoppers rush – towards normality, Professor Murphy said.
If we’re going to live with this virus for months in an economy that is more open, we have to change our fundamental way of human interactions,’’ he said.
Professor Murphy reiterated the current danger posed by the coronavirus.
“It can spread really quickly and if people aren’t careful and we have lots of pockets of outbreaks and widespread community transmission and thousands more cases, that is what worries me most,” he said.
But Professor Murphy conceded that was unlikely because “we are as well prepared as we could be”.
Although the risks of a second wave remain real, doctors are now concerned about a flood of other diseases caused by Australians delaying health checks due to the pandemic.
Visits to GPs are down and pathology tests have plunged by 40 per cent.
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone urged Australians not to ignore health conditions or put off visits to the doctor.
“We know that at some stage in the future to come, we’re going to see a lot of delayed presentations of illnesses and other health conditions that haven’t been managed, that haven’t presented for their usual care or, indeed, haven’t been diagnosed in the first place, leading to further complications and obviously the need for increased intervention and increased management and increased therapy and, obviously, delayed outcomes in that space putting our patients at risk,” Dr Bartone told the ABC.
“We know that during this time people have put off going to the doctor, put off dealing with a concern or a niggle or an unexpected or a new-developing pain or a new-developing spot on their arm saying that either doctors are too busy with COVID at the moment, or that we don’t want to risk the chance of picking up a COVID infection.”
However, Dr Bartone reassured Australians that there has “never probably been a safer, more appropriate time to go to doctors, to go to see your medical practitioner, whatever the case may be”.
“We’re ready, waiting. Our waiting rooms are cleaner than ever. You might say infection control has been ramped up to the nth degree,” he said.
“Social distancing measures are in place. We triage our patients before they present to the clinic. We’ve got separate entrances for respiratory cases.
“If it’s safe enough to catch a tram, if it’s safe enough to go to the supermarket, if it’s safe enough to go to even cafes and restaurants in groups of 10, it’s certainly safe enough to go see your doctor.”
Dr Bartone also warned against complacency towards the coronavirus.
“Let’s be very clear about this, we have won the first phase, the first round, the first quarter, whatever analogy you want to use,” he said.
The coronavirus is still present and prevalent in the community.
“Yes, it’s extremely, extremely low numbers, but it would only take one slip up to get an outbreak, a hotspot, and then from there anything
could happen if not managed appropriately.”
The community must take “a very slow, vigilant, cautious approach” to easing restrictions, Dr Bartone said.
“It’s not party time. The virus is still present and we’ve got to deal with it for a very long time to come.”